ACLU weighs in on Albertville protest changes

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MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama has its eyes on Marshall County as protests and counter-protests regarding the Confederate flag and monument on courthouse property in Albertville.

“They are seeking to regulate protected speech outside of what we call a quintessential public forum. Protesting on the courthouse steps is as old as the Union, so seeking to silence people in that particular forum is especially troubling,” explained ACLU of Alabama Legal Director Tish Gotell Faulks.

Demonstrations have been happening in Albertville since August.

“We have been watching as folks are seeking to be heard both in support of and against the idea of bringing down the confederate monuments, the confederate flags and all of those things,” said Faulks.

County Commission Chairman James Hutcheson said the new resolution is meant to prevent violence and give each side an opportunity to voice their opinions.

“But the answer to those concerns is not to silence the speaker. The responsibility there is for the government to provide a safe and secure environment in which the person can express their opinion. And what we’re talking about here is to have a designated area for counter protestors, having security provided that will separate and maintain the peace,” said Faulks.

Faulks told News 19 she is concerned the county’s new system will allow the rival groups to book time slots without the intention of protesting just to block the other. 

Faulks said because of this, the commission has set itself up for legal action.

“Anyone who knows that they want to express their disagreement with governmental behavior especially at the courthouse should feel as though this is an affront to their rights and desires to do that,” added Faulks.

She said there needs to be further clarification of the purpose of the county’s actions.

“I fail to see why the county, the government, can’t accommodate both sides or all sides of the messaging. The reason that we pay taxes is so that we have law enforcement who are there to provide security, protection, to keep everything from falling into mayhem and the idea that we can’t have two groups of people who disagree in the same space is just a fallacy,” said Faulks. “At this point, my concern is that the county is trying to set time limits and that the parties are going to go back and forth trying to edge each other out as far as the times available for their expressive activity and what happens if someone has a permit for a particular day at a particular time or particular duration and no one shows up for their protest. Does that mean that other people who are interested in expressing their opinions cannot occupy that space to protest or to support a particular cause?”

There are several rules she told News 19 are problematic from a constitutional rights perspective.

“You need a basis for why you won’t allow amplification or times within which amplification will not be allowed. The idea that you can only have certain successive days. That is a regulation that is not necessary,” explained Faulks.

As for the no more that 30 protestors rule, Faulks said, “They might want to say 30 people is appropriate ‘in light of the pandemic’, ‘in light of other public health concerns’ but there needs to be some type of record discussing and evaluating how they come to that number and I strongly suspect that this this resolution was adopted without that rigorous examination of what is the best way to accomplish the particular interest of the government here. And it’s also problematic that this may not have been open for public discussion and the people of the county should be heard on this point,” added Faulks.

Faulks said for the resolution to be constitutional. it must apply to every situation…from protesting the confederate flag to Christmas caroling.

Hutcheson told News 19 he did not have a comment. County Attorney Clint Maze had not responded by air time.

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